Trout farm, irrigators, canal companies make donations


Capital Press

Dairy farmers in Southern Idaho have something to be thankful for this month, even in the depths of the industry's worst downturn in decades.

They've received 3,600 acre-feet of water to mitigate for the impact that dairy ground water pumping has had on senior water rights holders in the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer.

The water was donated by irrigation districts, canal companies and Clear Springs Foods, a major producer of farm-raised rainbow trout.

The donation was made to the Idaho Dairy Water and Land Trust, a subsidiary of the Idaho Dairymen's Association.

IDA Executive Director Bob Naerebout said the association appreciates the assistance, especially in light of the extended downturn in the industry.

"As everyone knows, the dairy industry is facing its most serious and drawn-out financial crisis of the last 50 years," Naerebout said in a press release.

The water will be diverted from the Snake River at Milner Dam and put through the North Side Canal Co. system where it will be allowed to soak into the ground to help recharge the aquifer.

The surface water coalition, which includes seven canal companies and irrigation districts, provided 2,187 acre-feet of water. Clear Springs Foods donated 1,500 acre-feet. An acre-foot of water is enough to cover one acre of land a foot deep.

The water, taken from storage in Snake River reservoirs, became available due to above-average storage levels late in the water year.

Dairy farms are among hundreds of junior water rights holders in Southern Idaho that have been required to provide mitigation to senior water rights holders, including Clear Springs Foods and members of the Surface Water Coalition.

The state has threatened to cut off ground water irrigation wells with junior water rights unless sufficient mitigation is provided.

In June 2007, many dairymen were notified by the Idaho Department of Water Resources that their stock water wells could be curtailed too. So far, all shut-offs have been averted.

The dairymen's association has told state water officials that cutting off livestock wells could constitute animal cruelty.

The recent water donations are part of the state's comprehensive management plan for the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer.

The long-range plan, approved by the Legislature earlier this year, calls for adding an average of 150,000 to 250,000 acre-feet to the aquifer each year through managed recharge.

Several managed recharge projects have been undertaken in the past two years.

Earlier this year, the surface water coalition donated 6,300 acre-feet of water to the city of Blackfoot to help recharge the aquifer by replenishing Jenson Grover Lake, a key recreational area.

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